2011 was a busy year for Ardie Collins. His debut novel, Cult Fiction, was published by Knightstone Publishing, he finished his Master's degree and he committed himself to write a song a day for the entire year.
I have a confession: I’m young. Much too young to be writing this post. We’re talking horrendously young here. I’m 23 and I somehow managed to get my debut novel published in September of last year. I’m still baffled by this. I sometimes imagine myself older. I’m twenty years older and looking back at that kid who wrote his first novel and managed to get it published at 23, and I’m smirking at him and saying, ‘It was an okay first effort, kid. How did you swindle that one, though?’ For some reason my 43-year-old self seems to think he’s in a gangster movie set in the 1930s, and he's also somehow forgotten how he swindled it.
First of all, I swindled it by writing a novel. I was in my second year studying English at university and I wrote out a short story. Over the next few years a novel about a man who accidentally starts a cult slowly began to collect itself around this short story in a Word document. Later, it would be almost entirely removed from the novel, leaving only a tiny but important remnant of itself behind. Much of the very early draft was written alongside writing my dissertation. That may seem like a very bad idea. That’s because it was. But I think it helped, too. There was the writing I was meant to be doing (the dissertation) and the writing I wanted to be doing (something that was beginning to look like a novel) as a short relief. In the end, I think that seeing writing a bit of the novel as a welcome break was what helped me to finish it. The later drafts, rewrites and edits were all being done in my evenings while I was working in a 9-5 office job that I hated. I’m currently on the look-out for some similarly soul-destroying work (preferably in insurance or something) to help me see through another novel or two.
Secondly, I swindled it by getting a publishing deal. Unfortunately for future anecdotes and the post I’m currently writing, it wasn’t nearly a long and laborious enough process for my liking. It probably took about a year. I hunted around and did the usual thing of sending manuscripts and cover letters to different literary agents and publishing houses. A healthy pile of rejection letters had started to build up but, eventually, for very little reason other than losing my motivation and running out of money I was willing to allocate to stamps, I gave up. I reasoned that I was proud of what I’d managed to do up to that point, but that perhaps what I was sending out wasn’t quite ready yet.
Whilst I was trying to edit it into a better condition, however, I was contacted by a publisher who had seen my book online and asked if I wanted to submit it to them. I had forgotten that I had already put an earlier draft of the novel on a self-publishing website, months had gone by and it was still sitting there. It certainly helped that the publishers were small and still establishing themselves. I don’t imagine that this is a tactic that many larger publishing houses are likely to employ anytime soon when searching for new books, but in many ways I think of my route to publishing as the digital equivalent of leaving a manuscript on a park bench in the hope that a publisher might stumble across it.
As September loomed, I began organising a ‘Web 2.0 book launch’ involving tweet-based competition entries and live Blog.tv shows. And I was just as occupied with other things. I had a dissertation to finish for my Master’s course, but it was my main project (which I was most likely doing so I that could be creative on my own terms alongside my course – a recurring theme) that consumed most of my 2011. It was a project to release one original song onto the internet every day throughout the year. It could be the silliest thing I’ve attempted in my twenty three years, but it is also the thing I am most proud of having completed. It was often hard work, almost always tiring (due to normally forgetting I had to write a song until I was about to go to sleep), but definitely worth it. The idea being that I was playing the odds; that out of the 365 songs a lot of them could turn out to be terrible, but some of them might turn out alright. It was a writing challenge more than anything, and a way of learning how to write songs (something I’m still learning about, of course).
I think my love of being creative and making something on my own terms was the main reason I wrote my 365 songs and was also the reason I wrote the novel. It’s also the reason I desperately need to find a horrendous job in insurance or something so that I get to feel hard-done-by and self-righteous, and so that I can make more things in my spare time. Mostly, because I want to be able to look back as that smirking 43-year-old version of myself, and I want to have published more books and written more songs, and I want to be able to wonder how I swindled it.
The final song of the Cooper365 Project